Islamic Perspectives

Do women have less faith and less reason?

Last year I had gone to Afghanistan for a series of lectures on women’s rights and I also spoke on this subject in the gathering of distinguished Ulama and one of the issues which came for discussion was about  ‘women being naqisaatul ‘aql (short of reason and naqisaatul iman (short of faith)’. I said is it in the Qur’an, I do not find it anywhere in the Qur’an? Is it in the hadith and the answer was it is. I said any hadith which goes against the Qur’an cannot be accepted as authentic.

All Ulama agree that the Qur’an gives equal rights to men and women and both enjoy equal dignity, then how can she be short of reason and faith? However, the ‘alim who was asserting that women are short on reason and faith, could not reply yet murmured and sat down.

Recently, I was going through a book written by Maulavi Nazir Ahmed, a great scholar of Islam with somewhat liberal views and was given the title of “Shamsul ‘Ulama” by the British rulers. In this book he discusses the story of the creation of Adam and his being expelled from paradise for eating the forbidden fruit.

Maulavi Nazir Ahmed mentions that though Satan could not mislead Adam as he was firm in his resolve not to eat the forbidden wheat but he succeeded in misleading Hawwa (Eve) as she was short of reason and she in turn persuaded Adam and both ate the forbidden fruit and as a result were both expelled from Paradise. It is highly surprising that a scholar like the Maulavi did not bother to consult the Qur’an which nowhere says that Satan succeeded in misleading Hawwa. Instead the Qur’an directly blames Adam for being misled and thrown out of Paradise.

Thus the Qur’an says, “But the Satan made an evil suggestion to him (Adam); he said: O Adam, shall I lead you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not? (20:121). And in the same verse the last line says: “And Adam disobeyed his Lord and went astray.” Here Adam is directly blamed for being misled and going astray while Hawwa is mentioned no where.

Despite this, Maulavi Nazir Ahmed and some of our Ulama blame Hawwa for yielding to temptation and persuading Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit. The evidence of the Qur’an is totally ignored and these ulama rely on hadith.

Why does this happen? The reason is our anti-woman attitude and the thinking that women are inferior to men and that men are the rulers. Where does this attitude come from? Naturally, from the patriarchal values which are prevalent in our society.

We would continue to think in this way quoting prominent Ulama without understanding that our Ulama were the product of a certain period and were prisoners of their time. In other words, we have to adopt socio-cultural approach to religion. What we call “Islam” today is not based only on the Qur’an and Sunnah but also on our social and cultural values. The social structure of that time was not only patriarchal but also those prevalent patriarchal values deeply penetrated our understanding of Islam and our theology and we considered our theology as divine.

Women in the past feudal and patriarchal structures of society were subjected to severe restrictions including denying them any public role. Segregation of women and men also became part of our treatment of women. During Prophet (pbuh)’s time, women played an active role, took part in various public debates and even accompanied the Prophet  to battlefields and at times played active role as combatants. The battle of Jamal, as is well known, was led by Hazrat Aisha.

However, all this changed once Islam entered the era of monarchy and feudal culture became the dominant culture. Monarchs maintained large harems and made women their prisoners to be guarded by eunuchs.

It was in this environment that women lost their rights which they were given in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Men were now projected as superior, totally ignoring what the Qur’an had to say.

The Qur’an gave equal rights to men and women in every respect -- see verses like 33:35, 2:228 and so on. The Qur’an did not use words like husband and wife but used “zawj” instead which means one of a couple or pair.

Thus both husband and wife are referred to as “zawj” and our ulama, later on, under the influence of feudal and patriarchal culture began to quote a hadith that “had prostration (sajda) been allowed for man I (Prophet, pbuh) would have ordered the wife to prostrate before her husband.”

The Qur’an avoided using the word “ba’l” (husband) as in Arabic it also signified a deity. The Qur’an uses the word “ba’l” only thrice and that too for narrating stories of the past, otherwise it uses the word “zawj” for husband. It avoided the use of the word “ba’l” lest it should be given the status of a deity. Husband in Islam is no more than one of a couple, signifying equality of both husband and wife. But our Ulama privilege husband over wife.

Since women were confined at home and their role was reduced to that of a housewife, they lacked experience of the outside world and also parents thought a housewife does not need any higher education. She thus usually remained illiterate or semi-literate and could acquire no experience of public life outside her home and hence came to be described as “naqisaatul ‘aql” (short of reason). Today, conditions have changed drastically and women are working in every field of life and have become great achievers. In fact, they have proved themselves to be superior to men in several fields. To call them “naqisaatul ‘aql” is to display one of being himself short of reason.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2012 on page no. 20

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